Recently, say over the last years or so, planning and strategy has gained sex appeal. Lots of clients are all about “insights” these days and seem to have developed quite a hankering for that one inspirational bit of information that can transform business ideas, product ideas, marketing innovation ideas. Oh.. and, I almost forgot: communication ideas. Meanwhile, the agency landscape seems to be filling up with a formerly less commonly heard title: Chief Strategy Officer.
So, understandably, the trade press comes out with articles entitled “Is strategy the new creative?”.
But what does this really mean? I believe a headline like this is a great eyecatcher. But really, it is written that way to make you look. Strategy is not the new creative. It’s simply that the definition of strategy and creative and how both have to work together has changed.
However, what the headline really does, too, is to ignite a conversation. And conversations, or rather making sure that people talk about your brand and brands themselves are part of those conversations is what is actually behind the fact that the definition of strategy and creative has changed.
In a communications landscape where marketers have begun understanding that people aren’t interested in your messages obviously the old form of creative product, i.e. the delivery of ads, is losing importance. Or, at a minimum, ads need to be complemented with different creative products that provide context-relevant experiences, content and participatory elements alongside before they can be effective again.
Arguably, before strategy and creative were seperated, creative directors or account people did the strategy. Now it looks like everyone has to do strategy and creative. Why?
Having moved from the brand era to the people era has not only increased the need for agencies to offer a different or extended creative product, it also forces agencies to change the way they work to achieve the delivery of idea platforms that work channel-agnostically. Agencies have been offering full-service for decades, but in siloes and all services and creative executions tied back to the might big brand idea.
The most apparent differences of doing creative work now vs before is what happened to team structure and process: the traditional art director / copywriter duo who was responsible for “the big idea,” and represented the creative fulcrum of the agency, now has to live with the fact that the team responsible for creative output just got bigger. In order to deliver idea platforms that work in all channels, it does not suffice to come up with a “communication idea” and then adapt it into channels. You have to have ideas about experiences, content, functionalities, technologies and the brand’s product or service itself. Also, to be creative for those kinds of deliverables you need to do more than call your brand planner for some “consumer insights” about people’s attitudes: you need behavioral insights, channel insights, technology insights, experience insights. As a result, you need more people adept at a lot of different things to get the job done. And yet another result is that you need to completely step away from the linear process of research -> creative -> production. Your process needs to iterative and co-creative, from writing the brief to coming up with little ideas that tie into one idea platform instead of just one big-ass communication idea.
So, in order to accomplish all the above, you need someone to keep provide a bigger sandbox for everyone to play in. And guess who stepped up to the plate for that one? Strategists. Being that “sandbox provider” means that the traditional research and briefing job of a strategist has become much more about actually staging the discovery experience of the whole team and making that experience visceral. In a way, the frame in which an entire team of art directors, copywriters, concept developers, content strategists, social media strategists, interface designers, technologists, motion designers, experience planners, and brand planners tries to solve for a communication-, brand-, business- or product issue has to be staged and stewarded. To me, this doesn’t mean the strategist also has the creative ideas, but it means he provides the environment in which it happens. This means that strategist can’t sit in their office and pump out a creative brief anymore and that’s it. It means that they have to become a part of the creative process itself. And vice versa, creatives being part of the discovery mean they have to think a lot more about insights, as well.
So it doesn’t just look like everyone has to do strategy and creative. This is the way it has to be. In fact, if you do things right, you could also ask “Is creative the new strategy?”
To me it looks like after a long hiatus, you have to get ready for strategy and creative to move in together again. Just don’t let the strategist pick the furniture.
A little clip here on how strategy (and to me creative) has to move beyond the world of communications).